Doomed to fail? EU Roma Framework on course to be scuttled by states’ racist neglect

16 February 2024

By Bernard Rorke

On current form, the Strategic Framework is doomed to fail, and the blame lies squarely with Member States. Despite Commission communications, Council conclusions, parliamentary resolutions, and the relentless gathering of data, anti-Roma racism has actually worsened in many member states. 

A synthesis report by the Roma Civil Monitor published in 2023, could not include 13 EU Member States in their assessment because, for a variety of reasons, National Roma Strategic Frameworks (NRSF) were not available. The report identified a major flaw in the available NRSFs as, “the omission of the Roma’s most significant problems, including ineffective or exclusionary/discriminatory mainstream policies and services.” 

The problem runs deeper than the inadequacy of the new batch of rehashed and revised strategies and action plans that made little difference since 2011. In those Member States with the largest Roma populations, weak governance, endemic corruption, and routine segregation have gone hand-in-hand with unabashed anti-Roma racism from the highest public offices. In addition to democratic backsliding, Member States’ foot-dragging and failures to produce credible Roma strategies has further dashed any prospect of success by 2030.

Calls by the European Commission for effective action to “replace antigypsyism with openness and acceptance, hate speech and hate crime with tolerance and respect for human dignity”, have gone largely unheeded in key Member States with large Romani populations. Policy neglect in the areas of residential and school segregation; failures to effectively address anti-Roma hate crime and hate speech; and the persistence of racist police violence against Roma, do not augur well for success in the Framework, in which the Commission envisaged a strengthened political commitment from Member States, “on the front line to drive real change for Roma.”   

Policing: ‘A terrible discriminatory imbalance’ 

The NRSF have little to say about the institutional racism in the justice systems and police violence against Roma. The ERRC testified before the PACE Committee concerning its 2022 research report Brutal and Bigoted, which showed that police violence against Roma in EU Member States is a product of widespread institutional racism, brutality, and impunity amongst law enforcement concerning crimes. The PACE Committee deplored the fact that “violent raids and attacks against Roma villages and settlements as well as ethnic profiling, harassment, marginalisation and provocation, are part of daily life for many Roma and Travellers.” 

The recent shooting dead by Greek police of a Romani teenager, the third such killing in as many years, provided stark and shocking reminders of the toll taken by racism. In a 2023 motion passed unanimously by the PACE Standing Committee, the parliamentarians stressed the systemic nature of this discrimination, which includes “inhuman and degrading treatment, torture, excessive use of force, and violence resulting in some cases in the victim’s death”

PACE rapporteur Jean-Pierre Grin found that ECtHR case law revealed a “staggering picture of the relations of law enforcement authorities with Roma.” The report found that the practices of over-policing and under-policing of Roma communities amounted to “a terrible discriminatory imbalance.” PACE also described the persistent failures by the authorities to conduct effective investigations into allegations of police abuse as “tantamount to accepting impunity for serious violations of the European Convention on Human Rights, something which would clearly be unacceptable.” 

Segregation just goes on and on

It is unacceptable that one of the minimum targets for 2030 is cutting the proportion of Romani children in segregated primary education by at least half in Member States with a significant Roma population. Over the past 20 years, dozens of rulings in regional and national courts, and a clutch of ECtHR judgments dating back to 2005, have ruled school segregation to be discriminatory and illegal. 

As the ERRC cautioned, this halfway approach to desegregation, has been taken as a signal to do nothing of any substance to desegregate the school systems. Infringement procedures have dragged on without progress for five years against Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia for school segregation. In its evaluation of the quality of the strategies, the Roma Civil Monitor found that “the measures put forward by concerned Member States (BG, CZ, EL, ES, HU, IT, RO and SK) are not sufficient to address this issue systematically.” 2030 targets for Romani children in all aspects of their lives must be reset, and need to be as ambitious as those for every other child in the European Union. 

Residential segregation is symptomatic of the wider issue of environmental racism faced by Roma across Europe, starkly evident in forced displacement and mass evictions to make way for gentrification, tourism or corporate development projects. As the Roma Civil Monitor noted, despite the gravity of this problem of residential segregation, most countries have opted to merely map and analyse the situation. Neither have any of the states addressed the issue of forced evictions. 

The 2023 EU Council Conclusions called for action to ensure equal access for Roma to decent housing, highlighted the acute lack of housing provision, policy measures or investment, combined with discrimination and segregation. These conclusions signal an overdue but welcome recognition of the need to remedy injustices and undo the institutional racism that reproduces them. The pity is that the worst offenders among the Member States have yet to pay heed, and no significant progress is likely by 2030.

Framework on course to be scuttled by routine and racist bad practice

It is a matter of small surprise, but great concern to international observers, that there is scant evidence of progress with regards to Roma inclusion and rights protection in many states across Europe. In 2023, in a visit to the Czech Republic, Human Rights Commissioner Dunja Mijatović noted the persistence over decades of “the problems of discrimination and exclusion identified by each of (her) predecessors.” 

She noted that Roma continue to face discrimination and deep-rooted anti-Roma prejudice in virtually every area of life, including their interactions with the police. As regards implementation, the Commissioner said that despite the strategies and action plans, there continued to be a fragmentation of responsibilities, both at the central government level and between the state and the regional and municipal authorities; and that for Czech society to become more inclusive, good ideas and intentions “need proper implementation and enforcement. Unfortunately, an important gap still exists here.”

The same holds true in too many countries where the EU’s stated and sincere ambition, to make a concrete difference to the lives of Roma in Europe, founders on stony ground. No parading of best practices can conceal the bitter likelihood that the EU’s ambitions will be continue to be scuttled by routine and racist bad practice in recalcitrant member states up to 2030.

The full ERRC submission to the European Commission consultation is available here


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